Feeds

Would it be BAD if the Amazon rainforest was all FARMS? Well it WAS, once

Used to be all fields round here: Jungle tribesman saying

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

It's generally assumed that it would mean a disaster for the planet if the rainforests of the Amazon were to be replaced with farmland. But it turns out that, actually, much of the area was indeed farmland just a few thousand years ago.

We learn this from new research just published in the august Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A team of mainly British-based scientists carried it out, seeking to explain the presence of various large human-dug ditches and earthworks criss-crossing today's thick Amazon jungles - and pre-dating them.

Some in the paleo-boffinry community suggest that the ditches mean that the pre-Columbian civilisations of South America had slashed and burned the immemorial rainforests to create large intensively farmed areas home to dense populations. Others contend that actually the jungles remained largely intact, with just a few incursions by small communities of people.

Neither of these scenarios are true, apparently.

"We went to Bolivia hoping to find evidence of the kinds of crops being grown by ancient Amerindian groups, and to try to find how much impact they had on the ancient forest," explains Dr John Carson of Reading uni. "What we found was that they were having virtually no effect on the forest, in terms of past deforestation, because it didn't exist there until much later."

Carson goes on to say:

"The scale of the earthworks that were built on these sites suggests that the land was capable of supporting relatively large populations. Our analysis shows that they were growing maize and other food crops. They also likely caught fish, and there's evidence from other parts of the Bolivian Amazon for people farming Muscovy ducks and Amazonian river turtles.

"Our findings have serious implications for understanding past climate change, and how the Amazon basin might react to more modern forest clearance."

Carson cautions that the idea - advanced by some, since the earthworks have become known - that the rainforests will simply return naturally following modern deforestation is not supported by his new findings. The primitive Amazonians didn't deforest the area, so the fact that jungle spread across their farms from around the period 0-300AD - probably due to the climate getting wetter - doesn't mean that today's deforestations are easily reversible.

But the new research does rather conclusively cast doubt on the alternative notion, that the Amazon rainforests are an immutable necessity for a reasonable world climate. Plainly there have been times even just within recorded human history when large chunks of the current jungle simply weren't there, and the land was used for farms instead - without any associated eco-disaster.

Carson and his colleagues' research can be read by PNAS subscribers here. ®

Boost IT visibility and business value

More from The Register

next story
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
Cutting cancer rates: Data, models and a happy ending?
How surgery might be making cancer prognoses worse
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Brit balloon bod Bodnar overflies North Pole
B-64 amateur ultralight payload approaching second circumnavigation
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup
IT departments are embracing cloud backup, but there’s a lot you need to know before choosing a service provider. Learn all the critical things you need to know.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?